This week’s sci-fi horror film Splice shows what can go wrong when scientists mess with DNA to create Dren (Delphine Chaneac), a hybrid of many species. It was inspired by actual science, and it comes out just weeks after Craig Venter unveiled his synthetic organism.
“It started when I saw a photo of this thing called The Vacanti Mouse, which you might recall is a mouse that appeared to have a human ear growing out of its back,” said writer/director Vincenzo Natali. “It was such a shocking image. It wasn’t a genetic experiment actually but it looked like one and I just intuitively felt somewhere in this mouse there is a movie. So that’s where it began and then what’s so amazing to me is to see how in parallel to the development of the film, the science has evolved exponentially. Craig Venter, who is in fact kind of a reference point for us for Clive and Elsa, announced the creation of the first synthetic life form, named Synthia. So it’s really been neat. It informed the whole process of the making of the film because what I realized is, in co-writing the script, I did it in consultation with a geneticist and I started to realize that this isn’t so far from the truth and therefore we don’t need to exaggerate. We should make a creature that we can believe really exists because in fact it’s quite possible this creature could exist.”
Producer Joel Silver picked up the independent film Splice after the Sundance Film Festival. He believes in the science behind the scares himself.
“They announced yesterday that some entity created an organism, some kind of bacteria, that was spliced in some way that some entity or organization did,” Silver said. “Somebody is funding something. I don’t know if they’re actually funding Dren but people are doing this kind of activity. Yes, we’ve taken it to maybe an illogical place but it’s something that people are talking about and are aware of.”
In the film, Elsa (Sarah Polley) disobeys her bosses, and the law, to create Dren. It’s an ethical dilemma as well as a scary movie. “I definitely disagree with her scientific decisions,” Polley said. “I don’t disagree with scientists in general charting new territory to find things that may result in the betterment of humanity or cure diseases. I think I’m a huge supporter of those kinds of scientific developments but they need to be handled really responsibly and they need to be regulated and they can’t be done by two rock star scientists in a back room somewhere. I read a lot about the science behind it and leading up to this, but obviously a few months reading as an actor, you don’t understand enough about the science to have an educated opinion on it.”
Polley did educate herself enough to know she wouldn’t have to worry about a real life Dren situation happening in somebody’s lab. “Do I think it’s possible one day? I’m sure it would be but the question is would it be possible in terms of someone actually taking it to that. Would we as a society support that? I think having these kinds of things in the hands of private companies really concerns me. I think all of this kind of research should be public so that it’s regulated and that there’s not a profit motive. That’s my personal opinion on it. But any of the scientists that I’ve actually met in the research for this, they’re so responsible. They’re so horrified by the idea of something like this happening unregulated that it makes me feel like hopefully as human beings we won’t let it happen even if we have the skills to make it happen.”
Adrien Brody plays Elsa’s partner Clive. He was also drawn to the moral questions asked by Splice. “In something that is as relevant as genetic research or any kind of scientific advance, you have to be very careful,” Brody said. “That’s why there are all these debates about these matters because even with GM foods, even if the goal is noble, you’re still dealing with the possibility of changing the landscape on this planet forever. There are already many problems with produce that have been kind of corrupted from genetically modified things. Modified soy and it kind of blows over into other areas and then it just spreads. That’s only one level of it so technology and scientific research, look, it’s essential. It’s essential that we progress and explore but at the same time, there are many, many considerations. I think that’s what makes this so exciting because Splice isn’t far off from what reality could be or may be.”
Splice opens June 4.